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Torches, Pigments and Wax: Encaustic Painting at School of the Arts

Natalie Jablonski

Five days of art workshops wrapped up today at School of the Arts in Rhinelander.  Classes ranged from poetry writing, to drumming, to painting with beeswax. It's an old art with a new following. 

Instructor Ashley Gordon is wielding a propane torch during this intermediate course in encaustics, or beeswax painting.  The heat fuses the layers of wax together, and fills the air with the distinct smell of beeswax candles.  Gordon says her love for encaustics is about more than just getting to play with fire.

“I was drawn into it, it was my aha moment," she said.  "I love the sculptural aspects of it, because not only do you paint two dimensionally, it tends to take on a three dimensional form with all the texture and layers.  It’s great because you can embed and add things to it.” 

In the intermediate class, Gordon’s students are learning how to add complexity to their basic beeswax painting…like rubbing in pigments and collaged photographs.  Being able to use many different materials is what drew Middleton student Susan Schneider to encaustics. 

“I like to work with multimedia," Schneider explained. "So this allows a way to use paper, pigment, wax, a lot of different things – to create just a blend of arts media.” 

It’s a blend that has stood the test of time.  The technique was once used to seal and decorate ships, and wax paintings have been found that are more than two thousand years old.  Now artists are rediscovering encaustics as a way to combine sculpture, painting, and a little open flame.  

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